Things my ‘lil guy has taught me about food

Ok. I’m a dietitian. One who aspires to feed my four year old spirited ‘lil guy good and nutritious nosh. But his food agenda doesn’t always mesh with mine. I’m not a fan of food wars. What’s the point? As much as I repeat ‘because it makes you big and strong’ this concept flies over the head of a four year old boy far more interested in the toy of the hour. Often, I’ll resort to watching him eat his bowl of cereal like there’s no tomorrow while his delicious meal sits on the table. I’ll take a big sip of ‘mama juice’ and press the reset button for tomorrow. Maybe he’ll do better tomorrow. If not, I have plenty of cereal… and ‘mama juice’.

Being a dietitian to a child, the public assumes you get it right. All the time. The truth. I get it right. Sometimes. Being new to single mama-hood has it conundrums too. Some nights all we have time for is a picnic-styled meal. The usual suspects. Cheese, crackers, deli meat, carrot sticks and fruit. Still all the food groups. Just not quite a stunningly put together cooked meal. Reset. Tomorrow is another day. I just need to remember to defrost the chicken… .

The joy of being a mama is I get to hear all kinds of rationales and stories around food. I have decided that there may be some wisdom in what my son believes, so being the responsible dietitian I am, I thought it best I share his food wisdom with you too.

Ice-cream is a fabulous substitution for yogurt. Consuming yogurt on a daily basis gets BORING. Yes, it’s awesome to get your dose of probiotics and calcium, but sometimes you need a fix of ice-cream to help break up the monotony. If you need a second serving, go for it. If you’re anything like my ‘lil guy, vanilla, strawberry or chocolate flavors are staples. I kid myself with the strawberry ice-cream… I think maybe just maybe there’s real strawberry in it?

Broccoli stalks are little trees that are fun to eat… sometimes. It’s fun being a dinosaur who eats ‘trees’. But then again, sometimes you can also be a dinosaur who experiences a mood swing and decides to hate the trees. Oh well. I’ll just keep offering broccoli.

In general, vegetables should be banished. I’m lead to believe that vegetables are a schedule I drug that should be banned because they cause grave harm to a child’s psychological wellbeing. Offer up vegetables and in return there’s hysteria, delusion and fear unlike any I’ve ever seen. I’m not allowed to add vegetables to pizza or pasta. Gateways. While broccoli trees are ok at times, most other vegetables are dangerous. I guess I’ll keep peddling vegetable and keep sneaking them in. Oh yes, this vegelord will!

Making food into smiley faces has its pitfalls. Kudos to the parents who create foodscapes to entice kids to eat. I’m just not convinced all that time and effort pays off. In my household, a super cool face of food is appreciated for a minute. Eventually I’m accused of ‘playing with food’. Maybe a pick here, a nibble there, but no further than this because if the face is eaten, someone may eat your face? In the blink of a food eye, there’s sudden hollering. Fun food isn’t always fun when it get tossed on the floor. But for our dog Lu, it’s plenty fun.

Grazing out-beats meals. The concept of breakfast, lunch and dinner falls flat and has no footing in a busy day of watching ‘Mighty Machines’, playing with/ throwing around lego (I have seen Lego in places I never thought were possible) and repairing Mater or Lightning McQueen. With such a packed schedule, it makes sense to open the pantry door dozens of times to look for ‘something’ to eat. When hunger sets in, there may be willingness to try a meal, but refusal to sit down for it. If the meal doesn’t involve candy bribes it makes no sense to eat it. All that’s possible is a nibble, then off again to fix Thomas’s train track. REPEAT. ALL OF THIS. DOZENS OF TIMES.

Peanut butter has multiple uses. Who doesn’t love peanut butter! Step out your PBJ comfort zone. Eat it with carrot sticks or even with cucumber. Hey, why no smear it on fish sticks too? EAT IT WITH ANYTHING. While at it, smear it all over your clothes because later, while watching ‘Might Machines’ you can suck it out your clothes. Did I mention that peanut butter serves well as hair gel?

Candy should be a food group. Because let’s face it. You cannot live without it. Who decided fruit should be a food group but not candy? Dare not offer fruit instead of candy. That’s lunacy. They are not the same. Fortunately fruits have better standing than, dare I say it, vegetables.

The happiest day of this year. Easter. Candy as a food group.

The happiest day of this year. Easter. Candy as a food group.

So much to learn from such a ‘lil being.

Happy noshing, with, or without, ‘lil ones.



A small effort can be a big deal

A year ago I gave my ‘lil guy a Thomas the Train ‘sing-a-long’ book. There was a place to write his name.

A year later I just got around to writing in his name and recording our sing-a-long songs, although it’s mainly me singing and him offering commentary… .

I don’t scrap book. I don’t really journal anymore. And his baby book is somewhat completed. We have an email account for him and every so often, when he’s been on a roll saying awfully hilarious things, I send an email to tell him. And when I have a block of time (I have no idea when this last happened) I put together a photo book, the kind that are printed and bound and just awesome. In other words, I’m a great mom but a mediocre biographer of his life.

So this Thomas book is a big deal, even though it’s not a big thing. I mean, scribing his name and recording the songs are things I could have done over and over again but there was always something to do or just no point in doing it because, why bother? I’m a mediocre biographer… . But I feel pretty chuffed with myself. Actually, I’m SO happy I finally did this. Geez. Nominate me the worst procrastinator ever.

But I have to say that the ‘feeling chuffed’ part got me thinking. I accomplished something so small but so very meaningful and I felt good. So why not think about our nutrition and health this way too?

In my past encounters counseling clients, the common thread is that change is tough. Once all their food choices and behaviors are written down and more transparent, they tend to experience an overwhelming sense to change everything, yesterday, but then to resist this change because, well, it’s just too much! I have always encouraged self-identification of one area to start with, to tackle and nail down. But translating this into effective change post-session is challenging because the distractions to do ‘something else’ are real, and often lead to ‘just go back to the old habits’.

So here’s my thoughts. Just stop in you tracks now and do something. Anything. Something you’ve been meaning to do but just haven’t done for a myriad of reasons (too tired, too stuck in habits, too distracted). It could be as simple as ‘I’ll eat an apple now’ (because you never do) or it could be ‘STOP! Get your hand out that bag of chips!’. Just do it.

Sure, my Thomas sing-a-long book may be a laugh compared to changing a poor eating habit. But, it’s still me dealing with delaying an obvious that has meaning to me, and now that I’ve done it, I’m just in a slightly more content place than I was.

A bad habit broken. The habit of delaying…

Food has Something to Say


Hi. We’re food. You know us. No need for fancy intros.

Well, we’re the new celebrities. Step aside Bieber and Miley. You’re not edible and no one needs you to survive (we know someone out there disagrees with this statement). We’ve been in several documentaries (Katie is our newest fan), we’re always in the news, and social media devours us too. But just like celebrities, most often it’s our notoriety that grabs headlines… too much, too little, too expensive, too cheap, to this or too that.

Well news flash.. you made us this way. Yup. YOUR fault. Well sort of.

Through a series of perfect storms, you inadvertently made us what we are. Celebs that you love and hate. And now you’re all loving and hating on each other because of how you choose to hang out with us. Seriously, we’re laughing here!

So let’s talk about our so-called ‘bads’. You see, some of us are forced to go through a series of makeovers, wardrobe changes and make up routines because 1. you’re addicted to some of our special effects (sugar, fat, salt) (oh, we’ll discuss rehab in a minute) and 2. you want to trick your mind and body by taking away calories and adding a lot of ‘fluff’ to us so that we taste good but don’t do any harm to your waist lines, bowel, allergies… Trouble is, both 1. and 2. are on a collision path to a bigger and sicker you. It’s rocky convincing addicts and deniers. Truth is when you’ve messed with us beyond a point of recognition, well, we fight back. So don’t blame us. You did this.

What else makes us bad? Oh yeah… you want more of us for less. Sure, cheap is nice. But when we’re cheap, we are SO far removed from our original states which often means (drum roll)… defer to paragraph 4 above.

What’s bizarre is that the cheaper we get, the more we profit just a few… and it’s those few who pretty much have a LOT of say on how we roll. That’s your fault too. You’ve allowed them to do all of the above, and then to paste us just about everywhere. Too much sugar? Too much fat? How about too much visibility? We believe that you are smart enough to cue in to when you really need us. Why are you putting us everywhere? When you see us ALL THE TIME, your need to eat turns into must eat. Healthy relationships always need a little space.

And all this visibility gives you a false sense of knowing a lot about us, but you don’t really know us. Many of you don’t know where we come from, let alone how we come to be. You’ve become dependent on others to make us and you just want to eat and be left to do other things… like watch Food Network or play on your smart phone. THIS IS US DAMN IT! YOU EAT US! You can’t be ignorant of how we evolve and what we do to you. We really cackle when we are fads. You all want to be gluten-free but many of you don’t know what the heck this is, let alone need this. Only a few do. Geez. You probably do more research on the next generation smart phone than on us, period.

So prefer us cheap and bad… I’m sorry, did you I hear you say there is NO bad food? Well, just like there are good and bad people, good and bad dogs, good and bad hairstyles…  there is good and bad food. And like all of these, there’s a bunch in between. Please stop trying to convince yourselves that there is no bad food, just use moderation. The truth is, heck yeah we can be bad, and because of this, use moderation. It’s all in how you word it.

Ok, what else? Your constant desire for perfection that you’ve projected on us. You experiment with our DNA to make us look flawless, bigger and better. Some of you think this is all bad. What do we think? Well, we marvel at how smart you are but while we appreciate your help, we don’t need cosmetic surgery or performance enhancers. We accept ourselves in whatever shape, color or form we produce and if we get the right dose of water and soil nutrients, we are truly nutritious. We think another reason you’re digging around with our DNA is because your food production choices (aargh) are forcing you to fix us to cope. Add to this your worries that Mother Nature, our true boss, won’t do her job to help us adapt to the climate you’re messing with too… well, we’ve coped for millennia. Survived extinctions too. Just sayin’… . And that theory about not having enough to feed the world? On our last check, there is enough of us to go around. It just so happens that your wars, politics and greed keep us in some hands, out of others.

Boy, this freakin’ (we’re keep in this kid-friendly) complicated paradigm you have built upon us stinks and we’re getting all the flack for it. Even those of us who are good, you know, the local and organic, the omega 3s and resveratrol… even we get the flack. And since when did food, grown in ways your grandparents and generations before chose, become elitist? Back in the day the majority of us were ‘organic’. Many of you make fun of us when we’re grown on farms that take care of their biodiversity or choose to, well, just be different in their approach to producing us. Huh? Since when did mother nature get weird? Or backward? She’s laughing at you now. You don’t want that.

So because we’re celebs, and clearly frustrated, we’re going to remind you about some things:

– We don’t like to be adulterated too much and wish you’d accept and try us more, minus the make up, surgery and special effects.  We’re kind of in the midst of an identify crisis here and could do with your help to help us find our true selves again. This starts by you committing to rehab. A farm, farmers’ market, cooking demo, cooking class, or even just gazing at the produce section in the mega stores may help you rediscover how beautiful and unique we are in our most original forms.

– We don’t like to be too cheap. We should be valued because we impact your health more than anything else in your life. So if you choose more of us ‘baddies’ we’ll treat you bad. If you try to hang out with more of us ‘goodies’ well, the possibilities are fruitful. Now we know some folks struggle to find balance. You know, our biggest mission from the get go has been to not only feed, but to nourish too, regardless of how you look and how much money is in your bank. We like to call ourselves a ‘right’. We despise food injustice. Do something about it.

– And our last ask. Please stop picking on us. You need to be accountable for everything that has gone wrong with food because you did it. When we first arrived, your creator tasked mother nature to task us to feed you and to help you flourish. Well mother nature ain’t happy that we are barely recognizable, being exploited, making you fat and sick, and, oh yes, are actually partly accountable (because of you) for the destructive forces she’s having to discipline… NO NO NO! This is ALL because of your doing! We ask that you unmake all this. You can do better with us. Everything from choosing better to fighting for us.


Sincerely, your biggest celebrity,



(Channeled by Jessica Avasthi. Apparently she’s a registered dietitian. And she’s a mindful eater and wants you to be the same. How convenient.)




Spring Clean Your Eating

After a long and frigid winter, the sight of easter flowers, buds and blossoms are welcome as spring is ushered in. We’re three months into 2014. How are your resolutions coming along? Sticking with them? Dumped a few already? At this point it really doesn’t matter because with spring comes another opportunity to revitalize and reinvent your healthy resolutions. Spring clean your eating, and of course your health. Here’s how:

1. Start with your pantry. Long winter days may have meant stocking up your pantry with non-perishable items to tide you through snow and ice storms. While highly processed and packaged food are necessary at times, they are also laden with preservatives and fluff that don’t always offer the best bang for buck nutritionally. Always hang onto a few trusty items; canned fruit in juice, low sodium canned vegetables or soups, pastas, rice, and whole grain cereals and snack bars. The more ingredients listed that are difficult to wrap your pronunciation around, the better off you are without them. Determine what stays and what goes. And for the sake of unnecessary food waste, remember that anything that goes can be taken to food banks and used in healthy meals for families in need.

2. Bring out your recipe books or surf around a little. You may even wish to subscribe to monthly magazines with inspirational and fresh recipes. My favorites, Better Homes and Gardens and Organic Gardening. We all get into recipe ruts, or find ourselves with meal ‘writer’s blocks’, but simply browsing a few recipes can inspire you to try something new. And as the season progresses into full spring, look out for recipes that showcase seasonal fresh produce. Eating in season is a bonus… and here’s why.

3. Seasonal produce is tastier and possibly more nutritious, particularly if you buy it local,  from a farmer directly… at a farmers’ market! Very soon most farmers’ market will be opening. Look out for spring treats like leafy vegetables, radishes, turnips, carrots, onions, and soon, oh very soon, strawberries! You can also join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). These options are not only spring cleaning your eating, but they’re certainly cleaner for our environment too. Food less traveled is food with smaller carbon footprints.

4. Reevaluate what’s important. Are you trying to lose weight? Are you aiming for long term health and good habits?  Spring cleaning your eating doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect. It just means you have a chance to regroup and start the warmer season on a BETTER note. So if you’ve slipped into old habits, dust them away. If you’re fretting over the falling off the wagon, simply get back on. You are in charge of your spring cleaning, and in charge of your health.

5. And don’t forget to move! Long winters tend to mean more time indoors and fewer opportunities to get active. As spring unfolds, so does your opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy it. Walking, hiking and cycling are just some of the ways you can get active and enjoy the outdoors. Or get back into the gym! Chances are you’re paying your membership… so set yourself a new spring schedule. Remember, the day is getting longer so you have more day to enjoy for activity.

So happy spring cleaning! Your eating and health will thank you for it.

Jessica Avasthi

Minding My Peas & Food



Food has been making the headlines again, but not quite in the light we would hope.

We’ve learned that here in the U.S. we’re eating 8 foods banned elsewhere in the world. Within a few days, the list had evolved into 11 chemicals in our food. And when this list features growth hormone-infused milk and bromated flour breads, you’re left wondering how two innocent foods have become so adulterated.

And believe it or not… your pantry may house some frauds. That’s right. Certain food items and ingredients have a decent market value, so counterfeits are fast becoming the norm. Don’t you remember the honey debacle? Well vanilla, cocoa and sugar join its ranks. And unfortunately, this may impact the organic industry too.

Unfortunately less desirable practices impact major food industries too. Kelloggs is in the headlines regarding its labeling of certain products like Pop-Tarts. If it says ‘made with real fruit’, it’s not. Turns out General Mills had a similar issue a couple of years ago with its fruit roll ups. You would’ve thought that this earlier stern tap on the knuckles would’ve jolted the industry to cut dubious labeling… but no, this keeps happening and it’s impacting consumers the most. After all, if it’s going to say ‘made with real fruit’, consumers deserve to know the truth before they or their children eat these products.

By now you can’t help but feel fear and angst at the thought of going to a supermarket, but don’t panic. Here are some simple strategies to improving your food literacy for food-parency:

1. Most HIGHLY processed foods are likely to be loaded with ingredients you can barely pronounce, so check the ingredients. But there are some safe havens. For example cereal choices like oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits or muesli are better if you really want to stay clear of artificial colors and ingredients at breakfast.

2. The candy, snacks and soda aisles are havens for anything artificial. These foods shouldn’t feature in your daily food choices AT ALL.

3. If in doubt… make your own. Yes, this means you’ll need to set a little bit of time aside to find easy recipes and cook, but the more control you have over your food, the better it’s going to be for you. After all, I doubt you have tartrazine or bromated oil in your pantry.

4. Follow food blogs (like this one!) or major media outlets via social media. This helps you keep up with any food developments, recalls, food illness outbreaks etc.. Being engaged makes for a well-informed consumer.

5. And finally, air your grievances with the food industry. If you don’t like what you see, or believe you are being misled, tell them, even rally up the troops of you have to (try online petitions). The food industry has to respond. If they don’t, they lose their consumer base. And to date, their track record isn’t too hot so they’re going to need to make some fundamental changes on all levels (labor rights to food transparency) to survive the age of enlightened consumers.

So the next time you’re at the supermarket, you’ll be able to discern the friends from foes and still enjoy a nutritious and delicious life!

Stay hungry my friends,

Jessica Avasthi MS, RD, LD

Minding My Peas & Food